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Not all media rolled over for Iraq war [Commentary]

IraqInternational Military InterventionsWars and InterventionsBarack ObamaArmed ConflictsIraq War (2003-2011)Journalism

It's usual that an accusation against reporters comes from the political right, whether alleging they're in the tank for President Obama or that they're giving Hillary Clinton a free ride on the Benghazi terrorist attacks. But now a charge comes from the political left, passed on by a professional news kibitzer, Media Matters for America.

Its website carries an article titled "By rehabilitating Iraq War boosters, is the press forgiving itself?" Eric Boehlert, a staff member, argues that in the latest military crisis in Iraq, some television reporters have gratuitously given airtime to Bush architects of the 2003 invasion to dump on Obama. He suggests collusion between the Bush camp and "media elites" who swallowed the rationale for the war and helped sell it.

Cited is a question posed in last Sunday's ABC News "This Week" by reporter Jonathan Karl to former Vice President Dick Cheney: "What would you do in Iraq?" Actually, Mr. Karl asked several questions and kept pressing, noting how Mr. Cheney had been wrong in the past, while giving him time to say Obama had left Iraq too soon, allowing terrorist threats to regroup.

The author argued that Mr. Karl was "rehabilitating" Mr. Cheney, by giving him a microphone to bash Mr. Obama for having to send troops back into Iraq. "People might be forgetting," he contended, "the deep bond that ran between the compliant Beltway media in 2003 and the very same failed Iraq war architects and partisan boosters the press is now turning to for advice."

He wondered why "the discredited 'experts' botched Iraq last time" are now being a given "a platform to comment on the military crisis they helped create." He explained that "the current move to treat failed war sponsors as knowledgeable experts might also be seen as an effort by some journalists to put behind them the massive media missteps that led to the war."

He went on that "it's important to never forget just how much government stenography went on prior to the war in D.C .newsrooms, and just how little daylight existed between the Bush administration and media elites in their ironclad agreement about the need to invade Iraq. Only then does the continued symmetry now on display begin to make sense."

The author concluded: "By rehabilitating the epically ignorant Iraqwar founders, I think the press is also trying to rehabilitate itself."

Or is the author trying to rehabilitate his own eight-year-old book on a compliant press, mentioned in his lament?

Nowhere in this screed is any light shed on whether Jonathan Karl ever took any position on the air for or against the invasion of Iraq that would put him in league as a "media elite" with the "Iraq war architects" like Mr. Cheney. It does not seem to dawn on the author that by asking Mr. Cheney and other "war sponsors" about it, voters can be reminded of how wrong these experts were about what arguably was the worst foreign-policy misadventure in American history.

The author's broad-brush assault on "the press" regarding the invasion ignores the detailed and repeated challenges to its premises at the time in the Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) newspapers and columns in the Baltimore Sun and elsewhere. Their warnings and dissents were confirmed later by Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell when he wrote that his UN testimony trying to sell the invasion was a "blot" on his distinguished record.

The article is on the website of Media Matters for America, a self-styled journalism watchdog founded and chaired by David Brock, a former confessed right-wing hit man who targeted the Clintons and lawyer Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings. He has since gotten religion, recanted and become a self-anointed apostle of the political left, in keeping with his endless self-promotion.

If media matters, one wonders why his group offers an argument against the imperative of any journalist asking whatever questions of whomever he or she chooses, to bring varying views to the public. "The press" has its faults, of course, but saying it shills for politicians to gain cover for its own is quite a stretch.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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IraqInternational Military InterventionsWars and InterventionsBarack ObamaArmed ConflictsIraq War (2003-2011)Journalism
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